Harbour Street: The Whitstable independent stores braced for Omicron as Christmas nears

The festive period is one of the busiest for local businesses.

With shoppers on the hunt for great deals and last-minute purchases in the run-up to Christmas, independent shops often see waves of customers at this time of year.

But as the Omicron variant takes its toll with COVID cases on the rise, things are a little different this year.

Read More: Boris Johnson visits Saga vaccination centre in Ramsgate amid Omicron spread

Harbour Street is full of independent Whitstable shops and is often packed full with a mixture of locals and tourists.

But what was it like following the recent uncertainty surrounding COVID?

As we turned into Harbour Street, the first shop we entered was Harbour News.

Kamlesh Patel, 46

Kamlesh Patel, 46, has been working in the shop since the summer, and told KentLive he’s noticed a huge drop in numbers.

“In the summer it’s really busy, we have so many visitors here, but it’s much quieter now,” he said.

“I’m from the area myself and at Christmas it’s normally still really busy, but at the moment it’s a different story.

“I’ve noticed most elderly customers don’t seem to want to come out, I suppose because of the risk involved with COVID.

“It is what it is unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do so we just have to keep on going.”

Further down the same side of Harbour Street was a shop named Sundae Sundae.

Chris Conway, 51,

It’s typically a store that thrives in the summer due to the fact it’s a seaside store, but owner Chris Conway, 51, has found new ways to engage customers during the pandemic.

“I’ve been here for 15 years now and the pandemic was very difficult,” he told KentLive.

“In the first lockdown we simply knew we had to come up with products that weren’t perishable, as we were struggling to sell them before their expiry date.

“We created a candle company and sell them both in store and online, which has ensured we’re future proofed as the pandemic progresses and it’s going really well.

“I’ve certainly noticed more people are inclined to shop locally this Christmas in order to save trips further afield, and for us, that’s great.

“The mild weather we have at the moment is also helping!”

It was really interesting to learn how the business was adapting in the face of the COVID pandemic, and to hear of the measures implemented in the first lockdown.

Mimi Ford, 32, also had a great deal of optimism regarding the way things are currently looking at her place of work – The Clothes Horse.

Mimi Ford, 32

“It’s been a really great year for us,” she told KentLive.

“Obviously we’ve had to be shut for a few months during the pandemic but I think we’re in a great location on Harbour Street.

“It gets really busy down here, especially in the summer months, so that’s helped us out a lot.

“I’d say the main difference I’ve noticed in recent times is it’s mostly locals who visit us – as opposed to many tourists coming in the summer months.”

One common theme which emerged after speaking to the business owners was that they simply rolled their sleeves up and got on with it when the pandemic hit as there was nothing they could do about it.

That was also the case for those in lighting store Duma UK, as Emily-Rose Payne, 22, told KentLive.

Emily-Rose Payne, 22

“Last Christmas we had so much stock we couldn’t sell so it was difficult for us,” she said.

“But there was nothing we could do about it, and thankfully once things opened back up again it has been non-stop busy for us.

“Life was taken out of our hands but thankfully we’ve been supported by the level of tourism in the area and they’ve definitely made sure to check we’re doing okay which is nice.

“We’ve been open for eight years now and it’s nice to know that the people who were there when we first opened are still here for us now.”

Article Source: Kent Live